Canon EOS 5D Mark II for Filmmakers?

Could it be possible that the Canon 5D Mark II (priced at around $3000) will bring the world of filmmaking just that much closer to the average consumer? Just as digital SLR’s have inspired a huge wave of new photographers to emerge, could this dual purpose still camera bring the same type of professional availability to the masses?

In short, our answer is yes. However, we do have a few concerns about the camera. There is no doubt that the camera captures a beautiful image. With its full-frame 24x36mm CMOS sensor (many times larger than even the highest quality video cameras in the next highest price bracket) you can be sure your image will be crystal clear and handle incredibly well in low light conditions. To see how beautiful the image is you can watch the sample footage below:

The other camera feature that filmmakers are in awe over is the ability to shoot using interchangeable lenses. The options are virtually endless as you can use any of the 60 Canon EF lenses. You’ll not only have full control over your depth of field, but you’ll also have the ability to change your lenses, from 50mm “regular” lenses to wide angle or telephoto lenses.



Message by:  Lights Film School

In short, the camera captures a stunning image. There is no debating that point. Test footage from this camera is running rampant on sites like Vimeo and Youtube and the results are nothing short of breathtaking.

From a filmmaking standpoint however, this camera imposes too many technical limitations. For starters, filmmakers must remember that this is a still camera developed for photographers with SOME video capabilities. This camera was not designed for filmmakers. The fact that the camera doesn’t even have XLR inputs for professional sound (one of the most important elements to any film) is a telling point of this camera’s priorities.

UPDATE: Beach Tek has released an XLR adapter to fix this issue

UPDATE: We were disappointed in the camera before a recent firmware update which lifted restrictions on ISO settings and exposure levels. You now have full manual control over these settings.

UPDATE: Canon has also announced there will be another firmware update in January 2010 that allows the Canon 5D Mark II to shoot 24p.

The last downside to the camera that we’ll mention is not with the camera’s software or settings, but by with the hardware of the camera and the fact that it’s a small still camera and not a heavy video camera. The Canon 5D Mark II is very light as far as filmmaking cameras go. In independent feature films, when larger cameras such as the Panasonic HVX200, Sony Z7U or Red camera are used, there is a weight to the camera that expresses itself through the moving image. The weight of the camera and the fact that the camera is often shoulder mounted give the moving image a “feathered” and gentle look. Smaller camera’s on the other hand often have a shaky hand-held look and pick up every heartbeat and hiccup of the camera operator.

However, this isn’t to say that the camera shouldn’t be used by filmmakers. Some of the commercial work (especially commercials or music videos) have been spectacular. Photographers and filmmakers who have learned to work around the technical limitations of the camera are doing some really interesting work. Similarly the camera has been on numberous T.V. and film shoots now. There will also likely be many independent films using the camera in the near future.

If you’re still skeptical of this new little Canon camera then you might want to explore other options such as the Panasonic HVX200, which has a smaller sensor size, but films are being released in theaters that use this camera. Some of the scenes from blockbusters such as “Cloverfield” and the entire film “November” starring Courteney Cox were shot on the Panasonic HVX200 and both had theatrical releases. You can watch a trailer for November below.

The downside to using pro-sumer video cameras is that they don’t allow you to control your depth of field unless you use a depth of field adapter such as Redrock, Letus or Brevis Adapter. Not only are these adapters expensive (most cost over $1000) but these adapters also cut the light coming into the camera which can cause problems especially in low light shooting circumstances.

Independent filmmakers interested in the best image quality possible should look into any of the following cameras (in no particular order):

Canon 5D Mark II
Panasonic AG-HVX200
Sony HVR-Z7U
Canon XH A1

The Sony HVR-Z7U is an interesting option because it allows you to attach lenses to your video camera. It’s the first pro-sumer video camera to allow filmmakers to do this. The rest require depth of field adapters.

The Sony HDR-FX1 is another option, but without basic XLR inputs you loose sound quality which is why it didn’t make our list.

However, the video camera that we’re most excited about is the Red Scarlet camera (Soon to be released). The camera will be modular and therefore you can scale not only the hardware of the camera (i.e. “brain”, lenses etc) but also the price of the camera. It’s slated for release this year (2009) and is rumored to be out either later this summer or fall. But this is all speculation and the camera will simply be released once it’s stable.

This all being said we still find the Canon 5D Mark II an exciting camera. It undoubtedly has practical uses (as discussed above). Its compact nature could also make it a great camera for use in documentary environments where subjects are more comfortable around smaller cameras and audiences are more forgiving about things like sound or accidental soft focus.

Overall, it’s a great piece of equipment and its technology is exciting. We can’t wait to see what Canon comes out with next.


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